September 2014

Hello Everyone

September 2014

It was encouraging to hear from so many readers after sending last month’s newsletter, saying how much they enjoyed the Writings. With reference to the Chocolate Mousse recipe, one reader told me that she had had a part-time job as third cook at the Old Swan in Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire in late 1961. This recipe was the one that she was taught.

Seamus O’Brien, the Curator at the National Botanic Gardens at Kilmacurragh pointed out that Photo 2 was not taken in these gardens, as the description said, but was a photo taken by me at Mt Ussher in Ireland. Apologies for any confusion caused.

With the excitement of spring growth, fat buds opening, and nature moving faster than people, it is the time of year to think about new life and new beginnings. How better can I illustrate my thoughts than with the following photos.

Photo 1: Granddaughter Harriet in our garden. Photo: M. Long
Photo 2: Harriet focused on these flowers for quite a long time. Photo: M. Long

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at a planting of trees in the side garden; the sun had started to fade, and I was intrigued with the smokey pale mauve haze of one of the trees. What was it? It was the beginning buds of the Cercidiphyllum japonicum, or Katsura tree, native to Japan and China. Quite an unusual characteristic I thought.

It is the time for planting, and we have a few things here which will be going into the ground this month. Last week we planted Spiraea prunifolia ‘Flora Plena’. With its arching branches of small white flowers, it sits beautifully in front of a white flowering camellia.

One of the soil situations which many people have been dealing with this year is wet soil after so much rain. This offers the opportunity for a wide range of new plants, if you have lost some because the soil has been too wet. A few that come to mind, and which I have had success with are the ligularias, Imperata ‘Red Baron’ (Japanese blood grass), Geum rivale and its cultivars, Salvia uliginosa (the bog salvia) Elegia capensis (one of the restios), hostas, and the stalworthy pulmonarias, of which there are many attractive varieties. I struggled with one small pocket of our garden which has very poor drainage for about fifteen years before discovering that pulmonarias would be ideal, and they are.

Two books I recommend on this subject are “The Damp Garden” by Beth Chatto, and the section on Water Gardens in Beth’s book “The Green Tapestry”. So often gardeners are looking for plants that will grow in dry shady places. Equally as important is to ask what will grow in places where the water “sits”.

Last week we added another Kowhai tree, Sophora ‘Taupo Gold’ to the small collection of kowhais here, underplanting with a group of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’. The pittosporums are a very dark purple with a green underleaf and this collection, with the dainty leaves of the kowhais, make a good display of filtered light at the back of the woodland area, with green paddocks in the background.

Kowhai is a very hard timber and has many uses. Interestingly, when His Royal Highness, Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, laid the foundation stone of the world famous Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo in 1935, he was presented with a kowhai mallet.

The New Zealand Alpine Garden Society’s Combined Spring Flower Show will be held on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st of September at the Canterbury Horticultural Society’s Hall, Hagley Park South, Riccarton Ave, Christchurch. Admission is $5.00

Saturday 1 – 5.p.m. and Sunday 10.a.m – 4.p.m.

The recipe this month was one I made with the remainder of last year’s parsley, and so could be made at most times of the year. It has received lots of compliments.


  • 1 cup shelled walnuts,
  • 2 cups chopped parsley,
  • 3 garlic cloves,
  • ½ cup grated parmesan,
  • ½ tsp salt.
  • Put all in blender and when mixed gradually add ½ cup olive oil.
  • Lasts several days in fridge.


This recipe’s ingredients are not seasonal, having more to do with the arrival of warm sunny weather. It follows from a quickly-put-together lunch that I enjoyed in the sun recently, that involved a fresh crusty bread, some bits from the garden, good butter and some cold chicken. Margaret’s parsley and walnut pesto would have been a superb addition. With warmer weather inviting us to take our lunch outdoors, some easily prepared food makes spontaneous ‘picnics’ a real pleasure.

So…start with some crusty, fresh bread and this is a recipe that surfaced years ago about the same time as the one for scones made with lemonade. Remember those? Still a very good recipe too.

  • 3 cups of white flour ( half and half with wholemeal is good too)
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 330 ml beer, bottled or canned (not stout or low alcohol beer) made up to 400ml with water
  • OR: 400ml of beer from a bigger bottle if that’s what you have
  • about 1/2 c grated cheese

Heat oven to 200 degrees C. Grease a 20 x 10 cm loaf tin or two smaller ones.
Put the flour/s, baking powder, salt and beer in a large bowl.
Mix until well combined and pour into the tin/s.
Sprinkle with the cheese and bake 50 – 60 minutes for the large loaf; 25 – 30 minutes for the smaller ones.
Tip onto a rack to cool.

Variations: Make small mini-loaves and bake about 10 – 15 minutes and vary the toppings…seeds, salt and rosemary, etc.

I have baked this bread using Spelt flour which is a not gluten free flour, but is an older type of wheat with a more easily assimilated form of gluten. I have not yet tried baking it with a gluten free flour mix.

Slice the bread, put on a board with some very good butter and a pot of Margaret’s pesto. Gather small herb leaves, borage and rocket flowers or gone-to-seed broccoli flowers, calendula petals and any salad leaves you have from your garden; give them a quick rinse before piling on a flat plate. Add cold chicken, cold cooked bacon slices or whatever you have and some good olive oil and rock salt. Take it all outside with some plates, some napkins for messy fingers, your choice of beverage and enjoy!

Margaret’s pesto would also make a delicious layer in a pizza if the beer bread batter was spread in a slice tin, spread with the pesto, topped with baby spinach leaves ( pour boiling water over them, drain and squeeze), grated mozzarella or chunks of feta, some Parmesan grated over and a maybe a scatter of olives. Bake about 15 minutes. Toppings on the pesto could be whatever your imagination and tastebuds decide!

For a quick pasta dish, loosen the pesto with a little additional olive oil and stir through freshly cooked pasta. Or stuff some pesto under the skin of a chicken breast or two before baking them…a good pesto has endless uses!



About Frensham

Our relaxed country garden started twenty nine years ago. In the early days I had very little gardening experience and no vision for the site, but an interest in plants was quickly developing. Over the years, with much trial and error, a garden has emerged which we and our visitors do enjoy.

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139 Old Tai Tapu Rd, Christchurch 8025, New Zealand
+64 3 3228 061

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